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Backcountry Bliss

Skoki Lodge is worth the grind

My heart’s pounding. My nose is running. Frankly, it takes everything I’ve got to get one skin-covered ski in front of the other as I climb up Deception Pass - 8,000 feet above sea level, high above the treeline and deep into the frozen heart of Banff National Park.

I’m heading to Skoki Lodge. Twenty years ago, this rustic mountain cabin – built in 1931 – was declared a National Historic Site of Canada. These days, it’s most famous for having hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – a.k.a. Will and Kate – during their royal visit last summer.

I’d been warned about this backcountry ski trip up to one of Canada’s highest mountain lodges. “I’ve got two words for you,” a fellow traveler cautioned with a knowing smile. “‘Deception’ and ‘Pass.’”

This was the first bit of wisdom that came my way when I announced to friends and acquaintances that Skoki was on my agenda.

My friend Leigh McAdam had just returned from her own exhilerating trip into what is believed to be Canada’s (possibly North America’s) first commercial ski destination. “Bring a headlamp. It’s dark in the lodge,” she advised. “Oh, and ear plugs too. The walls are thin. And be sure to go to the bathroom before you go to bed! The outhouse is cold at three a.m.”

Next came the conversation I would have in the hot tub at The Post Hotel – where we stayed the night before our departure. My husband, son, and I found ourselves floating among the bubbles with a couple of Edmontonians who had just returned from Skoki.

They had two more words to add: “duct” and “tape.” If we were planning to rent touring gear (we were), they advised emphatically that we wrap up our heels and ankles and “don’t rip it off until you come back down the mountain.”

Then came advice from the folks at Lake Louise: “You want touring skis with metal edges and skins. Skins will save you.” They were right. Skins – giving us much-needed traction on uphill climbs – were a godsend.

Sound like a lot of hassle? You bet. Was it worth it? You bet.

Imagine a dreamy round-log cabin set in pristine Canadian winter wilderness. Crackling wood stove fireplaces and riverstone chimneys. A small group of fascinating guests who, like you, arrived at their destination powered only by themselves.

And then chef Katie Mitzel, who – along with her friendly staff – feeds you meals that include the likes of sweet potato pie, triple A Alberta beef, and delicious beets mixed with Gorgonzola cheese and blueberries.

Now that I’ve joined the secret society that is “People Who’ve Been to Skoki” – let me give you a few final words of advice.

- Be prepared for all kinds of weather. Dress in layers.

- Pack light. Really light. Whatever you bring, you have to carry. Do you really need that extra sweater? I sure didn’t.

- Drink loads of water the whole time because dehydration is a real risk.

- Pace yourself as you head up, and be reassured that coming down is going to be way more fun!

- Let the folks at Skoki know if you have any food allergies. Chef Katie will take good care of you.

- Finally, prepare yourself for one of Canada’s most profound backcountry winter experiences.

6 comments

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  1. Leigh commented:

    Hope you enjoyed Skoki as much as we did. That headlamp did come in handy didn’t it!
    And the food is divine – and in fact I think it’s worth staying there just for the food.

  2. Canoe commented:

    Your advice was excellent Leigh. And the food was incredible. Keep your eyes peeled for my In the Icebox column in The Calgary Herald where I profile Chef Katie. First Sunday in March. You may just see her beets recipe there too!

    UPDATE! Here’s the link to my Herald interview with Skoki chef Katie Mitzel:
    http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Backcountry+gourmet/6247271/story.html

  3. liz T commented:

    I can’t wait to hear more about your trip and I look forward to taking the trip myself one of these years! It all sounds wonderful.

  4. Barbara Scott commented:

    Lovely article; brought back memories from years ago of struggling up Deception Pass via skins, and the final, glorious ski-down to Skoki itself. Great place. Thanks for the memories!

  5. Lisa M commented:

    Nice read! I so want to get there one day, too. But I’ll need to improve my x-country skills quite a bit. A summer hike perhaps is in the cards for now…

  6. Canoe commented:

    So my sister-in-law just got back from Skoki. Here’s what she had to say:

    “We had a great weekend but I think it was quite different than yours. It snowed tons the entire weekend and the visibility was non-existent. The trip in was easier than we expected and we were glad the 30km wind was not in our faces. The second day we skied around Skoki Mountain but it meant breaking trail the whole way and with a few side trips (ie lost) it took us 5 hours. We loved every minute. The trip back was uneventful and the wind had eased but we heard avalanches going off the whole way. It was a bit unnerving. The food was very good and the company lively. We both came back refreshed with our equilibrium reset.”

    Thanks for your feedback Jan! Glad you’re home safe.

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